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Honey bees trained to detect cancer, TB

Press Trust of India  |  London 

Honey bees, known for their extraordinary sense of smell, can be trained to sniff out cancer, TB and diabetes in humans, scientists have found.

Susana Soares, a Portuguese designer has developed a new device that can detect these diseases using trained honey bees.

The honey bees can detect airborne molecules and can be trained to recognise certain smells associated with diseases such as lung, skin and pancreatic cancer, as well as tuberculosis, research by Inscentinel, a UK-based firm found.

Bees can be trained within 10 minutes using Pavlov's reflex - a form of learning in which the conditioned stimulus comes to signal the occurrence of a second stimulus - to target a wide range of natural and man-made chemicals and odours, including the biomarkers associated with certain diseases, according to the Soares's project website.

The training consists in baffling the bees with a specific odour and feeding them with a solution of water and sugar, therefore they associate that odour with a food reward, the website said.

Human apocrine glands are known to contain pheromones that retain information about a person's health that bees antennae can identify.

The device has two enclosures: a smaller chamber that serves as the diagnosis space and a bigger chamber where previously trained bees are kept for the short period of time necessary for them to detect general health.

People exhale into the smaller chamber and the bees rush into it if they detect on the breath the odour that they where trained to target, the website said.

The outer curved tube helps bees avoid from flying accidentally into the interior diagnosis chamber, making for a more precise result.

The tubes connected to the small chamber create condensation, so that exhalation is visible.

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First Published: Mon, November 25 2013. 16:13 IST